Confidence Woman

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg is on a mission to change the balance of power. Why she just might pull it off

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Peter Bohler for TIME

Strategy meeting Sandberg with LeanIn.org team members

Sandberg acknowledges all these obstacles but drills down on one in particular, the one she says receives the least attention: the invisible barrier in women’s minds. “Compared to our male colleagues, fewer of us aspire to senior positions,” she writes. It’s not exactly that they’re to blame, she notes. Females are raised from birth to have different expectations. There’s an ambition gap, and it’s wreaking havoc on women’s ability to advance. “My argument is that getting rid of these internal barriers is critical to gaining power. We can dismantle the hurdles in ourselves today. We can start this very moment.”

Do women want that kind of power? Are men hardwired to want the big paycheck, the high-horsepower career more? How much of women’s tendency to lean back stems from something deep in the DNA? Research findings suggest that women are as ambitious as men but that their ambition expresses itself in a different way. For Sandberg, these are not relevant issues, just as it’s unclear whether humans are genetically predisposed to eat too much or do so because of the food around them. Either way, it’s causing obesity and needs to change. “We have to evolve to meet new circumstances,” she says. “I’d like to see where boys and girls end up if they get equal encouragement—I think we might have some differences in how leadership is done.”

Sandberg’s critics are quick to remark, Easy for you to say. She has two Harvard degrees, a rich but menschy CEO husband, vast personal wealth, all the household help she needs and a flexible workplace. She walked into two of the right companies—Google and Facebook—at the right time. Women lower on the scale of money and education may wonder just how Sandberg expects them to lean in to their paycheck jobs. And for her to suggest that other women aren’t doing the right things to be successful, well, it’s what many people are calling ballsy, as in that’s what a guy would say. Her thesis has already drawn the ire of other women working in the same field. (Men have been less voluble. This is no-win territory for them.)

(MORE: Dominique Browning: More Ways Women Sabotage Themselves)

“Are we going to spend another 20 years trying to make women adapt to a system that doesn’t fit them?” asks Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, who runs a global management consultancy, 20-first, that helps companies achieve greater gender balance. She points to data from McKinsey that businesses with more women on their boards are more profitable. “Companies need women. It’s a problem for them if women aren’t advancing.” She thinks Sandberg’s message is the wrong one. “It’s insulting to women to say they need to become more like men to succeed.”

To be fair, that’s not exactly what Sandberg is saying. For all her success, she’s nothing like a man. She may currently have thousands of people saying “Right!” to her, but she’s refined her technique since elementary school. Now it blends an overwhelming amount of data with a weapons-grade ability to nurture and an exquisite organizational acumen. She’s like an escapee from a Star Trek episode in which Spock sired a child with an empath.

Take her role at Facebook. COOs aren’t usually the rock stars in an organization. They’re the nuts-and-bolts guys—usually guys—executing the CEO’s will and hoping to get the top job. Sandberg’s approach has been a little different.

“She built the whole business part of Facebook,” says Mark Zuckerberg, the social juggernaut’s hoodie-wearing CEO. “I didn’t know anything about running a company. [We] knew where we wanted to get, but we were lacking someone who was a visionary at how you work at large scale.” The company had about 70 million users and $150 million in revenue before she joined in 2008. Now it has a billion users and recently reported revenues of $1.59 billion for the quarter. “Some people emanate ‘I’m a pro at what I do. And I’m such a pro that when you’re around me, you’re going to want to be more of a pro too,'” says Chris Cox, Facebook’s implausibly young, handsome and Zen VP of product. “And that’s how it felt when she showed up.”

Nobody at Facebook has an office. Sandberg sits two desks down from Zuckerberg in a corner of one of the social network’s parking garage–size open-plan buildings in Menlo Park, Calif. Next to her is a pillar with “I Love You, Mom” painted in childish letters, created during a visit to Mom’s workplace by her 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. Opposite her sits her longtime assistant Camille Hart, who works on the multicolored megascreen spreadsheet that is her boss’s schedule. When Sandberg wants to talk to Zuckerberg, which is often, she spins around on her chair and literally leans in.

Passionate even for Facebook, where messianic is the default attitude, Sandberg’s a huge fan of the word huge. As in, “That is huge.” “It’s a huge problem.” “This is hugely important.” Her second favorite word seems to be genuinely, although to be fair, she’s partial to all adverbs. She gestures continually, with her fingers bent at the second knuckle, as if she’s mixing pizza dough or winding yarn. She’s an ardent listmaker and is never without a little notebook. Each page is either a project or a person, and she rips them out when the tasks are done. “I feel my to-do list,” she says.

(MORE: Caitlin Flanagan: What About the Children?)

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172 comments
Howardpaker
Howardpaker


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CathyOlsen
CathyOlsen

Love this article, it is spot on. I don't understand the whole "easy for her to say with a supportive husband and loads of money"- how do you think she got that?? By LEANING IN! She didn't accept a substandard husband- and she didn't wimp out of career or family achievements. (If you can say 'achievements' when it comes to family). I think too often the issues that the 70's feminists highlighted  (unequal treatment of women in society) has turned into a stagnation- "poor us, what can we do, look how they treat us!". What do you do about it? You have to speak out for what is fair, not accept unequal treatment (even from yourself), recognise your own internalization of unequal standards, and not accept substandard conditions. Too often I hear women who are married, complain to their friends about their husband's lack of help around the house, or how unfair it is that they give up their working lives in sacrifice for a family. Not fair! They should be doing something about it instead of accepting this unfairness and giving up! (I say 'they', but this is what I did too!). Good on your Sheryl Sandberg, and you know, I hope you do run for office!

bdoppes
bdoppes

and furthermore -  - some men do make it 'on their own' - women need HELP  to 'make it' - either with a responsive support system being in that of a mother, father or sibling - or a very 'cooperative' spouse who does nothing without you and you without him  - to be missing any of these support systems - -  you start to  'improvise' the best way you know how to and when you finally realize that most of your family is gone or just does not give a 'hoot' or is smart enough to acknowledge and help and your husband is a self-obsessed man or self-serving geek of sorts -  - you no longer have the 'luxury' to continue to 'profit' - buy appropriate clothing - have time to go to functions and meetings and trips - leaving children in 'good hands' or spend hours and hours on 'hobbies' like gardening and book writing ~ et al et al ~ none of that happens to any WOMAN without true continuous support and inspiration and that my friends - is the way MOST of the women in today's world live!

RobertF
RobertF

Is it so bad fewer women are CEOs in the business world? Perhaps women simply prefer more interesting, creative jobs in science or the liberal arts.

Jean_Grow
Jean_Grow

Belinda Luscombe got it right, with the kind a detail the teacher in me lusts for. “Sandberg is embarking on the most ambitious mission to reboot feminism,” as Luscombe says. Good for her and the rest of us. The fact that Sandberg took “too long” to realize she was a feminist, as Emma Brockes of The Guardian states, is reality. I see the same hesitation to embrace feminism in my students. And it is for exactly the same reason Sandberg took her time, because they think equity already exists. Unfortunately, they are wrong. We need to give everyone who wishes, men and women - including Sandberg, the time it takes to find feminism. 

Contrary to many, I do not think Sandberg blames women or “sells guilt.” Nor does she demonize men. In this way she exemplifies what it means to be a feminist. It is true she never has (and doubtfully ever will) experienced what many women, including myself, have had to struggle through. However, that does not negate truths, including how women sabotage themselves. I see this everyday in my students. Rather, she is giving voice to a long needed debate about the unspoken problems that are crippling women in societies across the world. This does not mean every woman will seek the top. Nor does it mean, nor does she imply, that it is easy or for everyone. But it does mean more of us should find the courage to do so, because in doing so we help all women.

I teach and conduct research about the lack of women in advertising creative. On average there are a dismal 15% of women creating the advertising images that we see across the globe, which explains a lot. Further, my students, as well as those of my colleagues, are in large part women (70-80% depending upon the study). This matters greatly – and not just in advertising creative. 

We need to have this dialogue for the sake of the young women and men I teach as well as for the non-college youth I serve as a volunteer. These young people desire equitable educational and employment opportunities and have a passion to give back. Yet, when all too many of them enter the world of work, especially women, they suffocate – constrained by narrow thinking and outdated rules.

It is time to have this discussion out LOUD. Big and bold. It’s time for each of us to speak our individual truths. It’s time for each of us to listen to the individual truths of others. It’s time to make room for everyone, some leaning in and some leaning out. Thanks for keeping this big, bold dialogue going, Belinda!

LauHiengHiong
LauHiengHiong

In recent decades in many countries, much more women than men graduated from university, particularly in fields like literature, education and social sciences. However, like the general American situation, the academic dominance by women has not correspondingly translated into political or career success in relevant domains. In Asian regions at least, cultural expectations for women are much more prominent, persistent and decisive than the American counterpart.

According to centuries-long traditions, women are supposed to function as a ‘background heroine’, assisting their husbands or children to move forward at whatever level in whatever careers. With very few exceptions, this is a typical mindset of most Asian women, poor or rich, illiterate or professional. Under such circumstances, a typical female professional or academic has comparatively less incentive for a senior administrative position, regardless of numerous superior qualities demonstrated – smart, capable, articulate, confident, and ambitious. Any tradition may change course, but it inevitably takes time.

Lau Hieng-Hiong, Hsinchu, TAIWAN

steven.mgarrison
steven.mgarrison

Thumbs up to Belinda Luscombe. She did a great job with this story.

krazykitty
krazykitty

%s That he's honest, not corrupt. He's good people, basically. %s

WilliamBergmann
WilliamBergmann

My prediction is that within 20 years women will have reached true equality in America. There will be equal pay for equal work, half of the executive positions will be women, and half the Nobel winners will be women. 

Men have had there chance at running things and have done a pretty crummy job of it. Women should at least get an equal chance to screw it up.